There’s a little voice I hear inside. It doesn’t speak so much in words -although if I don’t listen, it sometimes shouts- but more often it talks to me in thoughts. Sensations. Emotions. And occasionally it nudges me in one direction or another. I don’t really know how it sounds -no more than I could identify the voice of an idea, or the noise of guilt -but, whatever, it’s there all the same.
I suppose it has always been there, although until recently, I’ve hesitated to separate it out from all the other stuff that goes on in my head. And anyway, I don’t really know what to call it. Whatever it is, I couldn’t mistake it for someone else -someone outside my head- so it isn’t really a who. I’m not even sure it’s a what, to tell the truth.
Have you ever driven on a long car trip by yourself, and found that after a while, you’re talking to… what? Maybe to the car that always seems to be ahead, or the rattle coming from somewhere under the dashboard? Even stranger, perhaps, is the you inside who laughs at your spontaneous utterances, or maybe even comes up with something the outside you thinks is terribly clever -then says so…
I don’t mean to sound psychotic, or anything, and I don’t think I’m in need of treatment -of course, I would say that, wouldn’t I? I’m more curious about what is going on in there than anything else. It seems so natural to me, that I hesitate to call it a voice -in fact, I hesitate to call it anything. An engine makes noise, for goodness sakes; unless it’s terribly loud, or has changed significantly from when we bought it, do we really need to diagnose something? Or is explanatory attribution a particularly human need?
In fact, I’ve come to wonder lately, whether the din is actually the sound of me -the sound that gives me my inner identity: what makes me I and separates me from the environment that so thoroughly engulfs me. Something does anyway, and nobody else seems to have any better ideas.
But I thought it might be a good idea to check to find out if anybody else has engine noise. Not with a doctor, of course -just in case I’m misunderstood, you understand. So, I thought I’d check with my old friend Brien, the porchman.
Brien, my regular readers may recall, is a man who for some reason thinks his porch is another room in his tiny house, so he spends more time without than within. In fairness, though, I suppose there is a lot more for him on the porch than in the house. Sheda, his pet cedar for example, is definitely an outdoor tree, and he feels it’s easier to talk to it from the porch. Also, I think he likes to ensconce himself in a place where he can watch his lawn. He seems to have a gardener’s fondness for plants, and waits each year to see what varieties of weeds will mingle with his grass. He favours a melange, as I recall.
But even on a winter morning you can see him sitting there, wrapped in a Hudson’s Bay blanket, be-toqued and be-mitted with a beer never far from his chair, waiting for a little wind to awaken Sheda for the day. People talk, of course, and little children still point at him, but there is consensus in the neighbourhood that he is harmless, although the police slow down as they pass.
And yet, despite his idiosyncrasies, I still value Brien’s opinions. His peculiarities aside, he sees the world through a different lens and artifice stands out for him like colours on a zebra.
“I haven’t seen you for a while,” he said as I carefully climbed the still-broken steps to the porch. Spring was aborning, and rain was afoot, so despite the roof, he had abandoned the blanket for a plastic poncho that hung over him like a collapsed tent.
I smiled and accepted the beer he always seemed to have waiting for me.
“Wind’ll be up soon,” he said when he noticed me looking at the tree.
I sat in the chair he’d positioned beside him and we both sat in silence, while I sipped tentatively on the contents of the ice-cold can. It was a bit early in the day for beer and Brien noticed my hesitation. But I think it was more my silence that intrigued him.
“You’re as bad as Sheda, you know,” he said, smiling and narrowing his eyes mischievously. I stared at him, wondering what he meant. “Waiting for something to stir your branches,” he explained.
“Sap is hustling up and down her trunk, but she doesn’t move until the wind hits.”
“Sheda is a tree, Brien. It has no cognitive capacity. No muscles, for that matter…” I tried to say it kindly and matter-of-factly -Brien is certainly no fool. “And anyway, trees don’t even know who they are…”
The plastic poncho rustled as he sat back in his chair with an enormous smile on his face, waiting for me to continue.
“Except for her shape and size, there’s not much to distinguish her from any other cedar… That one across the road, for example,” I added, pointing to a distant tree near a neighbour’s house. “They may even be related, in fact…”
The playful smile never left his face, while he watched me through twinkling eyes. He finished off the can he’d been holding and reached for another one. “Can we ever know what’s going on inside her?” he asked, nodding towards Sheda.
“Sure,” I said, sitting forward. “I think we have a very good idea what happens inside a tree.” He blinked to encourage me further into an undoubted trap. “I mean, I’m not a botanist, or anything, but we know about…” I tried desperately to resurrect my high school botany course. “Well, the phloem and xylem systems, for example…” I hesitated, wondering if I’d got the names even remotely right, then bumbled on. “And…”
“And they’re identical in each tree…?” I could see his smile growing.
“Well, nothing’s identical, I suppose, but the components work much the same in each tree.”
“Sort of like us?” he said, his face emerging ever so slightly from the hood of the poncho. “Same components, but different noise -unique to each of us.”
“What?” I said, startled at his example. “What do you mean, noise? Trees are silent inside…”
He opened his new can and had a quick sip, staring at me all the while. “Like us, you mean?”
I put the beer down on the deck and blinked at him.
“You’re not going to tell me everything’s quiet in here, are you?” he said, touching his beer to his toque. “But it’s your personal noise -it’s who you are, eh?” He decided the beer had come too close to his mouth to resist any longer. “Why would a tree be any different?”
Nothing is alien to Brien.